5 Tricks Hollywood Uses To Make Good Trailers And Bad Movies

I've complained about movies once or twice before, but it turns out there's just no end to the madness. The people who own movie studios aren't content to just create art that we want to enjoy; they want to pin us down with their knee on our throats, slice out our corneas, and pour boiling hot cinema directly into our optical nerve. We scream and claw and writhe, but they're too strong. In the end, we're left blind and broken, wandering the Earth like Denzel Washington in Book Of Eli, which is a great reference to make because it was nowhere near as good as the trailers promised.

But the worst part is that movie ad campaigns don't just hurt us, they hurt the movies themselves. How? In five very specific ways, which is super fortuitous, because I have a lot of trouble writing when I can't divide my points into lists.

#5. New Marketing Techniques Encourage Shitty Movies

Universal Studios

If you're a fan of horror movies, you know how slim our pickin's are and how rare it is for a good scary movie to get any press: For every It Follows (which succeeds primarily through word-of-mouth, on account of how it's fucking great) we get a Last Exorcism, a Devil's Due, and even a Ouija. So what gives? Why do studios keep throwing money behind shitty scary movies? When will they learn to stop angering the Fear Gods?

Well, it turns out that they have learned their lessons, since as those links will show you, each one of those movies had a fraction of the budget of a normal blockbuster but still made big money: Last Exorcism cost $1.8 million and made $67 million, while the comparatively pricey Ouija cost $5 million and made 18 times that.

The problem is that "viral marketing" is all the rage, but "viral marketing" doesn't have to have anything to do with the actual movie. There was neat Ouija marketing that involved a fake psychic pulling pranks, and by "neat" I mean "significantly more entertaining than the movie." Yes, I saw Ouija. I am not proud:

Why are those so much more successful? It's because even though these cheap, shitty horror movies that no one cares about get a fraction of the production budget, their marketing budget is on par with most other blockbusters. It's the clickbait approach to cinema: They put all their effort into getting butts into seats and ignore the quality of what those butts end up watching. Then, when the aforementioned It Follows (so goddamn good, you guys) ends up being a success because everyone who sees it tells everyone else how great it is, they keep looking for the "trick." The "secret" that garnered so much success for a movie that was made so cheaply. Gosh, what ever could that secret be?

Rotten Tomatoes
No ...

I guess it's just a mystery.

#4. "Marketing Tracking" Ruins Everything

Warner Bros.

Right now, the way we measure how much money a movie makes is stupid and wrong, and it's keeping us from getting good movies. How? Be patient and allow me to explain, my pretties.

The most important detail in determining if a movie does well isn't, ya know, how much money it makes -- it's how much money people anticipate it will make, based on how well their marketing is doing. And these numbers are always hilariously wrong: Guardians Of The Galaxy was projected to open at $70 million, but it ended up snagging $94.3 million. The Expendables 3 was anticipated to pull in over $20 million, and it ended up grabbing $15.8 million. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For was projected at up to $19 million, and it ended up with just over $6 million.

I know what you're thinking: "Oh, well, at least they're in the ballpark." But that's not the point; those predictions are how they decide if a movie is a success. The Wolverine was projected to open at $65 million, but it ended up pulling in only $53 million, so it was immediately labeled a flop. Never mind that the movie ended up grossing $414 million and is the third-highest-grossing X-Men movie; it's a flop because these notoriously unreliable marketing projections were off. Again. Like they always were. And because of that, we almost didn't get a goddamn Pacific Rim sequel. Which would've been a national tragedy on par with me falling back into StarCraft II's Gold League.

Pacific Rim was practically written off before it even came out, and you don't have to be a marketing guru to understand why "What A Piece Of Shit This Movie Is" in headlines is going to be bad for word-of-mouth. In fact, when the movie ended up making a decent profit, it still took the movie studio a long time to double-check their numbers and realize that, yes, they were in fact significantly richer. The point is these people are making all their decisions based on made-up nonsense because they might as well live in fucking space.

#3. Movie Marketing Copies Other Movies Even When It Doesn't Make Sense

Marvel Studios

Look, I know you're busy. You're smart and ambitious, which means you spend most of your day making sure all your work gets done, you take proper care of yourself and your family, and in your free time you probably try to exercise or enrich yourself in some way. My only concern about you is that since you work so hard at taking care of all those things, you're missing the really important stuff going on in the world, like the fact that every Marvel movie poster is exactly the same poster.

Marvel Studios

Everyone is grumpy, looking just to the side of the camera, and standing in front of a bunch of flying evil things. Every hero except Iron Man is flanked by his friends, but that's just because Iron Man gets to be flanked by everybody in both Avengers posters, so it balances out. It's particularly weird because the first phase of Marvel movies actually showed a lot more diversity ...

Marvel Studios

... but then Avengers redefined what "crushing the box office" looked like, and from then on, they all copied that style. Never mind that Avengers was a success because it was the collision of several different movies, each with their own clear style -- all movies have to have at least one thing in common with The Avengers now!

Movie marketing is painfully transparent in how it just copies what works, with no thought whatsoever given to why that worked. Which is why every single movie has character posters:

Warner Bros., Marvel Studios, Summit Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, New Line Cinema


What the shit is that? Coyote Tango and Nova Prime are barely even in their movies. Ori is clearly drunk. That Breaking Dawn poster might be a parody; I honestly can't tell. Is "Creepy Pedophile Who's Too Clean And Smells Like Cheap Gin" an important character in that franchise?

Turns out that character posters are just easy and cheap. That's it. That's why everyone does it -- the design can be done in a designer's sleep (Nick Nolte didn't even know his picture was being taken) and you don't even have to pay to print them, because you can just throw them up online and call it good.

You'll also notice that all those posters are super dark, despite Guardians Of The Galaxy being a comedy and The Hobbit being an actual cartoon. That's because some movies were successful with their dark marketing, so now every movie pretends to be about gothic bats in a dark cave at midnight in space with the lights off wearing a blindfold and also it's very very dark.


Do you understand what I am telling you?

People who work in movie marketing are basically fish: When they see something shiny, they're going to try to bite it, even if it obviously has a hook hanging out its butthole.

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J.F. Sargent

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